The Democratic version of John McCain’

The Democratic version of John McCain’

As the critical swing vote in a 50-50 Senate, Joe Manchin has emerged as the most powerful man in Washington.

Sen. Joe Manchin answers questions at the U.S. Capitol.

Sen. Joe Manchin answers questions at the U.S. Capitol. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

By BURGESS EVERETT

02/07/2021 07:00 AM EST

Here’s a question on everyone’s mind when a critical vote comes up: Where is Joe Manchin?

The West Virginia senator has become the central character in Democrats’ control of Washington, a conservative throwback who speaks his mind and is maddeningly frustrating to liberals. He sided with his party to give them a critical vote toward approving President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus plan, but is already vowing to cut back Democrats’ dreams of a $15 minimum wage and limit who gets direct checks.

“He’s kind of the Democratic version of John McCain,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). “I say that partially in jest. But partially it’s true: Joe’s a hard guy to figure out how to lead. You know? He dances to his own music.”

Like McCain, the moonshine-swigging former quarterback isn’t afraid to let his colleagues know where he stands on a given day, either in the hallways of the Capitol or on cable news airwaves. Manchin often publicly discusses how he’s struggling with issues or tough votes. In a nod to his state, he lives on a boat while in D.C. named “Almost Heaven.”

“He’s kind of the Democratic version of John McCain. I say that partially in jest. But partially it’s true: Joe’s a hard guy to figure out how to lead. You know? He dances to his own music.”

 Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.)

Senators say following Manchin’s appearances on cable news or in papers is just as important as following the remarks of Senate leaders to understand where things are going.

“Joe loves to be in the middle of the action. And if you’re unsure about what he’s thinking in that moment, just turn on any TV set and there he is,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Manchin’s Republican counterpart from West Virginia.

Making known his dissension from Democratic Party orthodoxy is essential to Manchin’s political survival in a state former President Donald Trump won twice, by roughly 40 points. And though he has long sought to be an es

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